In today’s episode of PianoTV, I want to discuss the easiest Tchaikovsky pieces, and the ones to avoid until you’re very skilled. Tchaikovsky’s piano music tends not to get too difficult, since he wasn’t a virtuoso pianist like some other composers we’ve discussed (Liszt, Chopin, etc.).
If you’ve been wanting to learn some Tchaikovsky but don’t know where to start, this should be helpful to you.
I’ll be using the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) for when I refer to “grades” – ABRSM is similar, it just doesn’t go as high. I’ll also make a few comments on the Henle rating system, since some of you find that helpful.
I like to use all three of these classification systems because not every Tchaikovsky tune is on the RCM syllabus, or the ABRSM syllabus, or on Henle’s website.
Easiest Tchaikovsky pieces: Categories
The easiest way to do this is to divide his pieces into categories. Since he “only” wrote about 100 pieces for piano, this is very easy to do.
The categories are as follows:
-Album for the Young, op. 39
-Twelve Piano Pieces, op. 40
-2 Morceaux, op. 10
-The Seasons, op. 37b
-Six Piano Pieces, op. 19
Album for the Young, op. 39
Robert Schumann wrote a similar book some years earlier, under the same title (Album for the Young). Schumann wrote his collection because there wasn’t much good piano material at an easier level, and Tchaikovsky likely wrote his own collection for the same reasons.
In this collection, Tchaikovsky wrote pieces inspired by Russia, his travels, dances, and various children’s concepts (like The Sick Doll). It’s a really diverse collection both in emotion and content.
The difficulty range for these pieces is late beginner to late intermediate (RCM grade 2-7).
The easiest pieces in this collection are as follows:
The Sick Doll, no. 7 (Grade 2)
Morning Prayer, no. 1 (Grade 3)
Italian Song, no. 15 (Grade 4)
Old French Song, no. 16 (Grade 4)
The Doll’s Funeral, no. 8 (Grade 4)
The rest of the collection, though not as easy as these first listed pieces, are easier than anything else Tchaikovsky wrote. It’s a great piano collection and worth checking out!
Twelve Piano Pieces, op. 40
This collection of solo piano pieces was written when Tchaikovsky was around 38 years old. This wasn’t a commissioned work like some of the others on this list; he simply wanted to write 12 diverse pieces of moderate difficulty.
With a couple notable exceptions, the pieces in this collection are suitable for the early advanced student. Most of these 12 pieces are at a Henle level 4/5 in difficulty. Tchaikovsky himself gave the collection the subtitle of, “Of Moderate Difficulty”.
The easiest piece in this collection is also one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous (and beautiful!) piano pieces. It’s called Chanson Triste. It’s not in the RCM/ABRSM syllabus, but I’d put it around a grade 8 level (Henle level 4).
Chanson Triste, no. 2 (Level 8/Henle level 4)
Marche funebre, no. 3 (Henle level 4/5)
Mazurka, no. 4 and 5 (Henle level 4/5)
Waltz, no. 9 (Henle level 4/5)
2 Morceaux, op. 10
There are two pieces in this little collection: A nocturne (no. 1) and a humoresque (no. 2).
The nocturne is suitable for an early advanced student, and is at a grade 8 ABRSM level. The Humoresque isn’t in any syllabus, but it’s quite a bit more challenging. Rachmaninoff enjoyed it and made a recording of it.
Nocturne, op. 10 no. 1 (ABRSM grade 8)
The Seasons, op. 37b
The Seasons is a completely lovely piano album, and I encourage to listen through it in full. Tchaikovsky wrote it on commission for a music magazine, but that doesn’t diminish the value of these pieces.
There are 12 pieces in this collection, each representing a different month of the year. They range in difficulty from late intermediate to advanced (RCM grade 8 to 10, Henle level 4 – 6).
Probably the most famous in the collection are June (RCM grade 9, Henle 4/5) and November (RCM grade 10, Henle 5/6).
The easiest are:
March (Song of the Lark, no. 3): RCM grade 8/Henle level 4
January (At the Fireplace, no. 1): Henle level 4/5
May (May Night, no. 5): RCM grade 9/Henle level 4/5
June (Barcarolle, no. 6): RCM grade 9/Henle level 4/5
October (Autumn Song, no. 10): RCM grade 9/Henle level 4/5
All of the others are a grade 10 level/Henle 5-6.
Six Piano Pieces, op. 19
This collection was written in Moscow when Tchaikovsky was 33 years old. Like The Seasons, it was created on commission.
The pieces in this collection are just slightly more difficult than The Seasons, ranging from Henle level 4/5 to 6/7. They’re suitable for the advancing player, but beginners will have to wait a while before giving these a try.
The easiest pieces in this collection are:
Feuillet d’album, no. 3 (Henle level 4/5)
Rêverie du soir, no. 1 (Henle level 5)
Nocturne, no. 4 (Henle level 5)
Easiest Tchaikovsky pieces: Other Compositions
Some works that we won’t talk about today are:
- Piano sonatas (op. 37 and op. posth. 80) – they aren’t really a part of standard piano repertoire, and are quite challenging.
- Dumka, op. 59 – fairly well-known but quite challenging
- Various transcriptions – some of his famous compositions, like Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, have been transcribed for piano solo. I haven’t included transcriptions in this list, since I wanted to keep it contained to pieces originally intended for piano.
- Concertos – Again, I wanted to keep this list curated to piano-only compositions (concertos are for multiple instruments). Not to mention that concertos by their nature are extremely challenging!
Easiest Tchaikovsky pieces: Summary
So to sum up the vast majority of Tchaikovsky’s piano music, we have:
The Sick Doll, op. 39 no. 7 (Grade 2)
Morning Prayer, op. 39 no. 1 (Grade 3)
Italian Song, op. 39 no. 15 (Grade 4)
Old French Song, op. 39 no. 16 (Grade 4)
The Doll’s Funeral, op. 39 no. 8 (Grade 4)
(the rest of the collection goes up to a grade 7 level, but it’s redundant to list them all)
March (Song of the Lark, op. 37b no. 3): RCM grade 8/Henle level 4
Chanson Triste, op. 40 no. 2 (Level 8/Henle level 4)
Nocturne, op. 10 no. 1 (ABRSM grade 8)
My recommendation for learning Tchaikovsky would be to work through the entirety of Album for the Young over the course of several years. Once you’re comfortable with late intermediate repertoire, try approaching some of his easier early advanced pieces, such as the three listed above.
From there, you can feel free to explore any of the other compositions we talked about today – anything from The Seasons, Twelve Piano Pieces, and Six Piano Pieces. Just follow your preferences!